U Of M Touts Econ. Impact Of  “Cold-Hardy” Wine Grapes

U Of M Touts Econ. Impact Of “Cold-Hardy” Wine Grapes

University of Minnesota researchers say that resilient wine grapes developed by the university are key contributors to an industry whose economic impact exceeds $400 million.

As sub-zero temperatures continue to blanket the state, the University of Minnesota is touting the economic impact of its grape varieties, which can withstand such frigid climates.

Details about the economic impact of “cold-hardy” wine grapes were released in conjunction with the Minnesota Grape Growers Association's 10th Annual Cold-Climate Grape and Wine Conference, which was held over the weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul.

A new study—which is part of a USDA-funded, multi-state project and was conducted by two U of M researchers—found that cold-hardy wine grapes pumped $401 million into the U.S. economy in 2011, the most recent data contained in the report. (The researchers suspect that the economic impact has only grown larger since 2011.)

The data accounts for U of M-developed grapes, as well as other cold-hardy varieties created by private breeders. But according to the university, four varieties that it created have been key contributors to the industry’s growth: Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and Marquette. The resilient grapes can survive temperatures “well below” -20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the university.

The development of those varieties made it possible to grow wine grapes in regions previously deemed unusable by the industry. In fact, the study found that, since the U of M introduced its first grape variety, Frontenac, in 1996, producers in a dozen states have planted 5,400 acres of cold-hardy grapes—including 3,260 acres of grapes developed by the U of M.

Furthermore, the study found that wineries that sourced local grapes created $215 million in economic activity in 2011, including 5,000 jobs. Overall, the industry added 12,600 jobs, the university said.

“In Midwestern states, such as Minnesota, over 90 percent of the grapes grown are from cold-resistant varieties,” U of M researcher Bill Gartner said in a statement. “States like New York, with a long history and tradition of growing grapes in regions with temperate climates, can expand the industry into new regions with colder climates.”

Brigid Tuck, one of the U of M researchers behind the study, told Twin Cities Business that the economic impact of cold-hardy grapes is expected to keep growing. In fact, the volume of grapes on the market will nearly double between 2011 and 2015, and more than 80 percent of wineries involved in the study indicated that they planned to grow during the next 5 years, she said.

Tuck was unable to break out exactly how much of the $401 million annual economic impact stems directly from U of M grape varieties, but she said, “Certainly, the U of M-developed grapes are leading the industry.”

Last year, Twin Cities Business examined Minnesota's growing wine industry in a feature story. In 1990, there were just two licensed wineries in the state awaiting sourcing—but at the time TCB’s story was published, there were more than 60.

Several other recent reports have sought to quantify the economic impact of alcohol and related industries. For example, a report released last fall by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America found that the broader wine and spirits industry adds $3 billion to Minnesota's economy each year. And data from the national Brewers Association found that craft beer has an economic impact of about $742 million in Minnesota.